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Cannes Dispatch 3: A Good Year For The Americans

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By Dennis Lim

One easy conclusion to draw so far: the Americans are having a good year. The films of David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino and the Coens have been among the most warmly received competition entries. Down the Croissette, the Quinzaine is screening two of the best films from Sundance 07 — Robinson Devor’s “Zoo” and Gregg Araki’s “Smiley Face” — and has world-premiered two more fine American indies: Tom Kalin’s unerringly intelligent true-crime provocation “Savage Grace” and Ramin Bahrani’s Queens-set street-kid slice of life “Chop Shop.”

My favorite film by an American director so far — although it was shot and financed in Italy — is Abel Ferrara’s “Go Go Tales,” screening out of competition as a midnight selection. A wild and wildly allegorical comedy, it’s set in the course of one long, eventful night at the declining Paradise Lounge strip club. Beleagured proprietor-emcee Ray Ruby (Willem Dafoe) is behind on the rent (landlady Sylvia Miles is threatening to turn the premises over to Bed Bath & Beyond) and facing a nearly mutinous crew of go-go dancers (among them Asia Argento, who gets to tongue-kiss a dog). But he continues to dream big, holding on with a mix of tenacity, blind optimism and belief in community that are, more than ever, the necessary traits of the struggling artist.

The charmingly sleazy cabaret ambience evokes “Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” but with its overt melancholy and warm communal vibe, this could almost be Ferrara’s “Prairie Home Companion,” ending not with a graceful fade-out but on a note of crazy defiance. Ray’s funny, rousing final speech — peppered with heart-on-sleeve avowals (“I love to gamble!” “I played to win!” “What do you want from me? You wanna kill my dream? Take my heart?”) — is, of course, Ferrara’s own manifesto, a message to audiences and investors who may have lost faith. American distributors take note.

Another film that will hopefully have a U.S. home before the week is out, “Paranoid Park,” Gus Van Sant’s first film after the Death Trilogy that recharged his creative batteries and relaunched his arthouse career, is both modest and masterful, the work of a wholly relaxed filmmaker in peak form. The formal experiments of “Elephant” and “Last Days” — trippy subjective audio, fractured chronology, obsessive Rashomonic replays — are further refined here and by now seem like second nature.

Based on a novel by Blake Nelson about a teenage skate kid who accidentally kills a security guard, the story would seem to locate Van Sant in predictable territory (not to mention in the vicinity of Larry Clark). But every element of this supremely intuitive film — the credible cast (recruited via MySpace), the lovely, moody cinematography (credited to Rain Kathy Li and Christopher Doyle, who has a brief cameo as “Uncle Tommy”), Leslie Shatz’s delicately textured soundscape, the emotive soundtrack (heavy on Nino Rota and Elliott Smith) — is designed to tune you into the wavelength of its young protagonist (Gabe Nevins). Few films have ever conveyed so keenly the panicky dread and numb estrangement of adolescence. As a coming-of-age story, it’s at once incredibly specific and cosmic in scope.

A Palme d’Or favorite judging by their past win (for 1991’s “Barton Fink”) and three director awards, not to mention the critical response, Joel and Ethan Coen’s skillfully directed adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel “No Country for Old Men” is, without a doubt, their best since “The Big Lebowski.” It’s also shaping up as the most overrated film of the festival. The Coens have fully exploited the cinematic potential of McCarthy’s tense, tersely described action sequences, but they’ve also exacerbated the book’s tonal problems and questionable politics (i.e., its apparently face-value conservatism). It’s hard to give credence to the late bid for seriousness (which takes the form of a few windy philosophical bouts), given the expert flippancy and nastiness of what came before.

Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” on the other hand, could have done with a little more seriousness. Not that the filmmaker doesn’t convey the urgency and gravity of his subject. Moore hammers home his basic, inarugable thesis — that the profit-motivated U.S. health care industry is immoral and inhumane — with a lack of finesse that can be both cathartic and frustrating. Considering what’s at stake, you can’t help feeling this should have been a less reductive, more scrupulous film.

Strictly in terms of information, “Sicko” does little besides confirm what most reasonably well-informed Americans already know. With its glib, utopian views of foreign health care systems, it’s also a feel-good palliative for Moore’s overseas fan base. Given that his central argument is pretty much a no-brainer, he tips the balance toward tearjerking manipulations. “Sicko” is sometimes enraging, often upsetting, but as a polemic, it could have used less mawkish sentiment, more lucid outrage.

[Photo: Gus Van Sant’s “Paranoid Park,” MK2 Productions, 2007]



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.